Monday, February 14, 2011

Fiddling with water soluble pencils

I've been wanting to change my technique a bit for my illustration work. You know I mostly use colored pencils, but one issue I have with them is the 'grainy' look, if you don't burnish them (or sit there for way too many hours doing way too many fine layers to make the white of the paper disappear). I still like the soft look of pencils, but wondered if combining them with watercolors would make a better 'look'.

Well, actually, I already KNOW that using watercolors as an under painting would work. What I don't like about using regular watercolors this way is that: 1. I have to squeeze out paint and 2. I have to squeeze out paint.

So then I had the bright idea of trying my water soluble pencils which I had decided I didn't like some time back. What I hadn't liked before was the uneven quality of the wash you get when you 'color' an area with the pencil, then brush water over it. Yuk. I thought maybe if I did a more drybrush technique I could get more control.

* The drybrush technique is where you hold the pencil in one hand, and take a fine brush, dip it in water, roll it over a paper towel to get most of the water off, then pull it across the pencil lead to pick up some pigment - then paint with it that way. No mess! No paint trays, no puddles of water, no ''too much paint" squeezed out. Neat and tidy.
(OK, OK, I know I could use watercolors in a dry brush way too - get pan ones, or just nick a bit of paint from the opening of the tube without actually squeezing any out, etc. etc. But this is about using all pencils, no paint at all.)

First up though, here is a the swatch chart I made to see just how different the pencils are when wetted than they are dry. WOW. Big difference!! These are Faber Castell water soluble pencils, the set of 72.
I made a right mess of a few of them, and the technique is spotty since I've never done this dry brush thing before, but you get the idea.

(click to see it bigger)

I did a few experiments with different techniques. I'm working on some illustrations that have knitting in them (big surprise) and before I get to the finishes I want to nail down how I'm going to paint them. So instead of doing some generic shape like a cube, I decided to do a mitten.

All of these are on Stonehenge paper, which I want to make work because I like the 'see through on a light box' aspect of it.

On this first one I did a rather loose and still somewhat painterly dry brush technique using just one color - the Oriental Blue pencil. Looks pretty much like watercolor. But it didn't buckle the paper.

Next up, I used only pencil. The water soluble pencils, on their own, when used just like a normal pencil (no water) don't do it for me, so I switched to a Peacock Blue Prismacolor.
Here you see the old grainy soft quality, with the white paper peeking through. No burnishing, obviously.

On this one, I did a picky dry brush wash with the Oriental Blue pencil and water, then went over it with the Peacock Blue Prismacolor. I didn't develop it completely, but can see that the layer of paint underneath really cuts out the white paper nicely. And does it with watered pencil, rather than actual watercolor, which is what I wanted to find out.

Then this one is just the Oriental Blue pencil and the dry brush technique, but done in a slower and pickier way.

I'm happy to know that the pencils used with water in this dry brush method can achieve results that either look just like watercolor, or can work as an under layer to regular colored pencil.
I'm looking forward to developing this technique better - these examples are pretty rough, I must say.

The other thought I have about this is that when "100% colored pencil" is a requirement for a piece, like, say, CPSA, I believe they would have to accept water soluble pencils as being 100% colored pencil - right? I find it intriguing that one could conceivably enter a piece that looks like watercolor to a colored pencil show. Just saying. I guess its no different than using solvents or the Icarus Board or something. Still, it feels like cheating somehow.

Discuss, leave comments ~


Leanne Franson said...

Thanks for that, it was really interesting to see. I too bought a beautiful set of watercolor pencils and hated how streaky it looked with water (like your samples). But i love how you are using it in the different manners on the mittens. I must say I like all four!

black bear cabin said...

i have a wonderful set of watercolour pencils i bought years ago...and your demonstration has inspired me...perhaps i will get them back out and try them again :)

Sarah Melling said...

Oooh...I've been eating my Valentine See's "nuts and chews", and now I check my blog list and what do I find? Candy for the eyes. Those studies are really interesting. Being a pencil gal, I know that paints and water and all that mess are not for me. I do, however, burnish as well as use a solvent marker and blending pencil. It's all very interesting, isn't it? What exactly defines what a pencil is? Dry pigment in stick form? I've been looking at the fabulous colored pencil botanical portraits by Ann Swan, and she sometimes uses a marker "underpainting" which is similar to what you're suggesting, but the result isn't as painterly. So many options...such fun!

Anonymous said...

You are such an inspiration! Watercolor pencils just didn't turn me on either, but am going to dig them out again after seeing what you're achieving with them in connection with the dry. Thanks for sharing!

Katherine Thomas said...

I'm so glad you're sharing your experiments for us. I'd like to know more about creating a smooth finish too.

CC said...

You'll think I'm a little loony, but your descriptions have given me an idea about simulating the watercolor under pencil technique on the computer (heaven forbid).

You are such an inspiration. Thanks!

Pattie Wall said...

This piqued my interest to try some of this for myself. I think it would be great to see the WC pencil quantified as CP in a group - a certain pigment in pencil form..why not? Thanks for sharing some fun examples!

Paula Pertile said...

Hey everybody, glad you enjoyed this. I'm looking forward to doing more with this idea to see where it will take me.
This is still a slow process - it doesn't really speed things up at all I don't think, but it does give one some options.

Consie said...

There's a real difference from one kind of WC pencil to the next, and if you don't like one kind, it's worth trying another. I've done the kind of "painting from the pencil with a brush" that you talk about, and love it. But I've also found that there are some other things that both speed up the process, and offer nice control. First, if you can, try using Faber Castell Albrecht Durer pencils; are those the FC pencils you're using? They are amazingly wonderful. Another thing I've found is that when I'm doing whatever "water" thing I'm doing with them, I use a water brush. (My favorite is the Niji). With a little fiddling, you can get it to work with a nice drybrush technique; you can also make it a bit wetter to push pigment around more if you want. This makes it so that you don't have to be repeatedly dipping and "painting".
The WC pencils and a waterbrush are also just fantastic for taking along out and around, if you're inclined to do that now and then...

Sarah Melling said...

I was telling my husband about this post this morning, and the discussion about what qualifies as colored pencil, etc. In logical engineer thinking, he replied, "Well, I would think it all comes down to what touches the paper: If it's a brush, it's painting and if it's a pencil, it's drawing." Ah, if only things were so black and white in my brain...!

Gillian said...

They all look so different but equally appealing.
Did you know that you can apply a damp brush to Derwent Coloursoft pencil marks to move the pigment around too? I've been using that method on Pastelmat.
I agree that, since it's no different to using solvent then it's still a CP technique.
Thanks Paula. x

Meisie said...

I really like the look of these, especially that last mitten.
Thanks for sharing! The chart is quite 'eye opening'!

Vicki Smith said...

Interesting post! Plus, I love mittens.